The American Medical Association has long been accused of being out of touch with practicing doctors, but a surprising source said that notion is simply wrong.
Robert McNamara, MD, the outspoken past president of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine, said the AMA's power and benefits make it an organization that emergency physicians should join.
Dr. McNamara, the chair of emergency medicine at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, told attendees at AAEM's 17th Annual Scientific Assembly earlier this year that the AMA is not only influential but also relevant to emergency medicine. Though the AMA is currently losing members, he said, it still has more than 250,000 physicians in its ranks, which is 15-20 percent of all U.S. physicians.
“The organization tries to help doctors take care of patients,” said Dr. McNamara, one of AAEM's founding fathers and its current council representative.
The AMA maintains a democratic structure with a House of Delegates and board of trustees, and only 16 percent of its $290 million revenue comes from dues. The organization takes in $56 million from publications, $47 million from database products, $71 million from book products, and $35 million from their insurance agency. These multimillion dollar resources help with the organization's representation and advocacy efforts and its educational resources.
“Most physicians want advocacy and representation,” Dr. McNamara said. “They want an organization to stand up for them. AMA has extensive resources, and they are very well equipped for political advocacy.”
The AMA focuses much of its attention on medical liability because it is the issue most important to doctors, Dr. McNamara said. The organization attempts to help reduce health care costs, and has embarked on a multi-year campaign to reduce medical liability premiums and to fix the liability system for patients and physicians. But, he said, they failed on liability reform with the Affordable Care Act, which AAEM opposed because “nothing was said about liability reform, and that's what's important to doctors.”
The AMA also advocates for Medicare payment reform, and has a litigation center to help doctors who are sued. They were successful in recouping $350 million for doctors who were paid lower rates by UnitedHealth.
In addition to advocacy and representation, the AMA sponsors numerous educational resources for doctors. “JAMA [the Journal of the American Medical Association] is a core benefit,” Dr. McNamara said. “Not all of it applies to EM doctors, but a lot does. Every issue has something that can be read to enhance knowledge clinically or generally through medicine.”
The AMA also has extensive resources that assist with running a practice, according to Dr. McNamara. But even with its stock of resources, only 10 percent of emergency physicians are part of the AMA. “There is a perception that the AMA doesn't really care about physicians,” he said.
The cost to join can be an obstacle as well, with AMA dues at $410 per year. And that's on top of annual dues emergency physicians might pay to AAEM ($365) and the American College of Emergency Physicians ($565), not to mention mandatory state dues.
But the AMA is “number one in D.C.,” and its “core values reflect the values of the AAEM,” such as a strong belief in physician rights and control. And, as Dr. McNamara stressed, the AMA is exceptionally strong in litigation, and will fight for physicians.
“Is EM going to get anything passed without the AMA's support?” Dr. McNamara asked. “Probably not. So, even though they dropped the ball with liability reform, we as a specialty have to hope they pick it up again. The AMA is relevant, and we need them on a lot of issues. If you believe in our issues, so does the AMA. It's a pretty good bang for the buck.”
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